Sunday, December 30
For father I picked up Motherless Brooklyn because father is from Brooklyn and a fan of Hammett, Chandler and the like. The fact that father may soon be motherless played no role in my selection and I was pleased that he did not ask whether it had. I also gave him The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World because it has become something of a tradition for me to give the man a book with Hitler in the title every Christmas. I then purchased Absurdistan because, while he is something of a Holocaust scholar, father does enjoy funny stuff.
For mother I picked up a pair of George Pelecanos novels, Hard Revolution and The Night Gardener. Pelecanos is no doubt a little grittier than what mother is used to, but he writes and produces for The Wire and mother loves The Wire. Also gave her Black Swan Green, Blood Meridian, The Beggar Maid and No One Belongs Here More Than You because she'll dig 'em.
For brother I got The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 because it's just about the only book you can get the guy to read. Must be something about that title. Forever the iconoclast, brother apparently delights in making this yearly offering his only required reading.
For brother and girlfriend, two foodies nonpareil in my social circle, I picked up a smörgåsbord of books: The Ethics of What We Eat, The Tummy Trilogy and The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. To give a foodie a book on the ethics of food seems a bit like giving a sports fan a book on the meaninglessness of sports. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Now lemme go enjoy my veal chop/ballgame in peace." Nevertheless, I hope they read it.
Keen’s depressing book laments techno-utopianism, free content, and the rise of citizen journalists, filmmakers, musicians, and critics as cultural arbiters. It is a book, in other words, of spectacular elitism.
Keen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur turned full-time critic of user-generated Internet content, argues that our most “valued cultural institutions” are under attack from the hordes of lay hacks, undermining quality content with garbage. His central argument is—to pinch a word he loves to use—seductive. He’s right that the Internet is littered with inane, vulgar, dimwitted, unedited, and unreadable content, much of it fueling outrageous conspiracy theories, odious partisan debates, mindless celebrity worship, and worse. And then there’s the stuff that’s not even entertaining.
Keen refuses to confess that there’s even a smattering of intellectually and culturally worthy user-driven content online. If you do find something decent in the “digital forest of mediocrity,” he attributes it to the infinite monkey theorem: Even simians, if permitted to indiscriminately hit a keyboard for an infinite amount of time, will one day bang out Beowulf or Don Quixote. (Silly me, I was under the impression that monkeys had hatched the idea for VH1’s Scott Baio Is 45…and Single.) Apparently, these monkeys are discharging so much free content into the cyber-strata that they threaten to bury culturally significant work, dilute good craftsmanship, and cost me, a journalist and “cultural gatekeeper,” my job. So I guess I’d better take Keen’s thesis seriously.
Thursday, December 13
Check out the Criterion Collection DVD for a La Jetée/Sans Soleil double-feature.
Wednesday, December 12
I am bothered by Ivan. With Fyodor, Dmitri and Alyosha I kind of feel like I know where the stand; I have at least some understanding of their motivation. Ivan has been sitting on the sidelines a bit and he remains a puzzle. He concerns me.
The narrator fascinates me. His disdain for Fyodor in the early pages is one of the early highlights of the book for me. But thus far I have found the narrator to be inconsistent in tone and in allegiance. As Part I wore on it seemed as though he was growing fonder of Fyodor and increasingly unsure of Alyosha. It’s interesting to think about the identity of the narrator. Not necessarily pinpointing one specific individual, but rather considering their sex, their class, their age, etc. One assumes Dostoevsky never identifies the narrator.
I have a feeling that the role of women in the book is going to be an interesting topic for discussion. Dostoevsky has tidily cleared out the mother figures and to this point in the novel left us only with Grushenka and Katerina Ivonova, two females of rather limited virtue. But then again, compared to the Karamazov clan the female personages appear downright saintly At the close of Part I we have the emergence of Lise. Who at present seems to be little more than a prop to lure Alyosha from the monastery.
There is much more to say but it grows late. Perhaps we can build om this and get things percolating.
Tuesday, December 11
Here's the (important) note on this paragraph in my edition: "Victor Terras rightly considers the passage to be 'probably the master key to the philosophic interpretation, as well as to the structure'" of B.K.
Take that as you will. It's also pretty bad-ass.
Friday, December 7
Norman Mailer alluded to this blurring in a 1960s phrase about "the novel as history, history as a novel", while the French thinker Jean Baudrillard, with his theory of "hyper-reality", argued that humans, unable to make sense of the complexities of the modern world, experienced real events as if they were fantasy. Yet such ideas - as the concept of Burn's novel acknowledges - have now truly found their time.
The obvious temptation is to blame journalism, and it's certainly true that these blockbuster news stories are partly shaped by the fact that today's journalists (in print and television) have much more space and much less fear of legal censure than did their predecessors. But I think the news increasingly feels like a novel or screenplay because so many people now live like figures in fiction, defining themselves as "characters" within what artistic criticism calls a "structured narrative".
Thursday, December 6
The point is that [science fiction] is, in fact, the necessary literary companion to science. How could fiction avoid considering possible futures in a world of perpetual innovation? And how could science begin to believe in itself as wisdom, rather than just truth, without writers scouting out the territory ahead? Which is why this widely despised genre should be read now more than ever.
Wednesday, December 5
I think people are about evenly spaced out between just (re-) starting and up to 250 pages in, but it doesn't matter all that much, yet: it's hard to talk about the book until you have a good foothold. I may post my own thoughts on The Grand Inquisitor chapter (from my understanding, the most famous chapter in all the book, and one of the more important chapters in literature, period), at some point in the near future, and then everyone can read it when they've gotten there. That's a good idea, actually: if you have thoughts on the chapter, just make a post with the chapter name as a title and people will know whether to read it or not.
Tuesday, December 4
I bought a copy from Dave's Olde Book Shoppe down in Hermosa Beach. It seems to be the nearest independent bookstore near me. I like it. My book is a 1919 Modern Library publication, the first edition of that printing. It's small, bound in blue cloth, with thin translucent pages like a bible.
I don't think I'm ready for any substantive discussion, but those of you who are a bit speedier, have at it!
Friday, November 23
The Savage Detectives. By Roberto Bolaño. A craftily autobiographical novel about a band of literary guerrillas.
What is the What. The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel. By Dave Eggers. The horrors, injustices and follies in this novel are based on the experiences of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
The folks at Bay View, the independent living facility on North Main Street, were playing a bowling simulation on the Wii (rhymes with tea) console game system, where pressing a button on a wireless controller and moving your arm to mimic the motion of rolling a ball is enough to send a simulated ball whirling toward a set of simulated pins.
Wednesday, November 21
Monday, November 19
She likes to break the bindings of books, to make them more tractable, and longs to meet one of her favorite authors, Tom Robbins, but only so she can ask him on a date. Caitlyn is a chronic re-reader, and once dramatically claimed to have read her favorite book hundreds of times. She lives in California, apparently.
A maximum of one killer metaphor or simile per page should be ample, and watch out for the word "seem": it debases one's own currency, somehow. Think about how the writers who you love manage to make you love them. Prose that contains too many sentences beginning with the word "I" soon gets as tedious as people who begin too many sentences with the word "I".
'Catch-11' was one of the first suggestions, but was rejected because of the 1960 Rat Pack film Ocean's Eleven. Heller at one point settled firmly on 'Catch-14', but Gottlieb threw it out for being too nondescript. When 22 came up, Gottlieb felt that it had the right ring: 'I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14,' he told the New York Times Review of Books in 1967. Heller took two weeks to be persuaded.
Sunday, November 18
To say that all women’s writing is sentimental, emotional, light-weight and about small issues is to imply that all male writing is large in scope, intellectual, tough and about important issues. Absurd, perhaps, but negative ideas about women’s writing are so pervasive, that women have looked for ways out: using a male pseudonym (popular once), not disclosing first names (A.S. Byatt, P.D. James), keeping their gender strictly out of their writing, sticking to male protagonists and so on. At times women may even have felt the need to ask themselves: if men are so averse to reading us, is there something wrong with our writing?
So what can we conclude after The Book of Other People? That Chekhov's influence on the short story is still paramount. That "hysterical realism", the tendency in contemporary fiction so accurately diagnosed by critic James Wood in 2001 – symptoms include fact fetishism, list making, digressive mini-essays – has mercifully given way to something more intelligent and true.
Saturday, November 17
Twenty-year-old University of Washington creative-writing student Amanda Knox posted a short story called "Baby Brother" on her MySpace blog last December to a resounding lack of interest from the world at large. It got a grand total of one comment. A year later, the short story has achieved global notoriety, having been quoted and/or mentioned by the Associated Press, MSNBC, the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Irish Examiner, all the London newspapers and tabloids, newspapers in Italy, etc. Never in American history has a short story gotten so much attention, although the attention has nothing to do with literary greatness.
Those who have followed Chabon's career will certainly find a rousing diversion here. If there's any moral to be extracted from the book, it's this: "There was no hope for an empire that lost the will to prosecute the grand and awful business of adventure." This might as well serve as a personal credo for the author, whose Afterward offers a defense of his decision to write adventure fiction. At this point, Chabon enjoys the prerogative of extraordinary talent. He can write whatever he pleases, as his far-ranging oeuvre attests.
But his notion that literary culture needs more adventure strikes me as dubious. We are living, after all, in a country overrun by "the grand and awful business of adventure," whether in Iraq or Hollywood's relentless epics of violence.
Literature, though, is about the tumult of people's emotions, more than the gallivanting of their bodies. Its power resides in the heart, not the glands. As much as I admired the exuberance of Chabon's picaresque, I had a hard time feeling much for his characters. I cop here to an antiquated bias: I prefer the adventures that occur inside people.
Note: For a time the working title had really been Jews with Swords. It is lamentable indeed that Chabon did not keep it that way.
One can over-sentimentalise the idea of the novelist as passionate adventurer, whose prose is inspired or sharpened by some dark experience (such as war.) It's mostly a foolish dream. But one can feel a lowering of the spirits when confronted by the spectacle of the descendants of Bellow and Roth, Updike and Mailer – the creative-department students whose impulse to write derives mostly from feeding off other books, who would rather fashion a short story, good though it may be, rather than attempt a balls-out epic novel. "The originators, the exuberant men, are gone," wrote Evelyn Waugh about the English novel in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, "and in their place subsists and modestly flourishes, a generation notable for elegance and variety of contrivance." The older generation of great American scribes, the exuberant men and women, are going at alarming speed; and with them goes the dream of the Great American Novel that focused and energised them all.
How does it stand up, 75 years later? And how close have we come, in real life, to the society of vapid consumers, idle pleasure-seekers, inner-space trippers and programmed conformists that it presents?
The answer to the first question, for me, is that it stands up very well. It's still as vibrant, fresh, and somehow shocking as it was when I first read it.
The answer to the second question rests with you. Look in the mirror: do you see Lenina Crowne looking back at you, or do you see John the Savage? Chances are, you'll see something of both, because we've always wanted things both ways. We wish to be as the careless gods, lying around on Olympus, eternally beautiful, having sex and being entertained by the anguish of others. And at the same time we want to be those anguished others, because we believe, with John, that life has meaning beyond the play of the senses, and that immediate gratification will never be enough.
Thursday, November 15
Wednesday, November 14
I read Everything is Illuminated, the acclaimed debut novel from Jonathon Safran Foer, a young buck at like 23 years old-ish when he wrote it. Wunderkind, they say. Foer relates his search in Ukraine for information about his familial ancestors in a piecemeal manner. Four stories interweave indirectly: the fictionalized tale of Foer's 18th century relatives in a zany small Jewish village, the fictionalized account of Foer's grandfather's life in the same village at the onset of WWII, the fictionalized present-day account of Foer's trip to Ukraine told from the perspective oh his under-qualified translator and guide, the teenage Alex, and finally in a series of fictionalized letters from Alex to Foer after Foer returns home.
At least I think it's all fictionalized. I'm putting stock in the statement in the leading pages of the book that all characters and accounts are fiction except for the author's own character. I just don't know how much of this is completely made up. Did Foer actually take this trip, or is it a total fabrication? I don't know which is more impressive. I think it may be more of an astounding work if indeed he just spun this whole serial mess from his mind.
But impressive it is, in any case. The hook at the beginning is the humor which takes the form of hilariously broken English written by Alex in his accounts of Foer's Ukrainian adventure. The humor persists throughout the book except for the sad parts and the really sad parts. But these parts are also funny. And the funny parts are pretty sad too. That's one of the charms of this novel - that there is very little middle ground between the sad/pitiable and the comic/comical. It's all mixed up into one mixture, but still separate and extremely defined, like a briefly shaken vinaigrette.
Speaking of the sad - the Jews got it bad. Of course, the whole premise for this novel has to do with the erasing and scattering of established Jewish communities by acts of colossal violence. When Foer and his entourage (wait - is there a word for an entourage that goes before you instead of behind? A "pre-tourage" of sorts? Let me check...googling...nope.) So, when Foer and his assembled escorts get to the location of the ancestral village, there is nothing. Not even ruins remain, the place was so ruined. I guess it got to me - the whole attempted erasing of a populace.
Then, a couple of days later, I watched Schindler's List. Yikes. I'm afraid that similar things are happening today, 13 November 2007, some place(s) on earth, and it makes me wonder: what kind of world do I really live in? Is non-technological progress in humanity expected to keep pace with the tech? How far are we, in human relations, from the 18th century? From Auschwitz? Is it ok if we aren't further along? To what quantity should our peaceableness scale? Wealth, literacy, communication bandwidth, or something else? Essentially, we know we are a better people, collectively, than we were in those times past. But, how do we know that we are better enough?
Maybe an interesting Book-Loop reading project would be to explore what actual philosophers have to say about the scaling, measurement, quantifying, or standardizing of "progress." Reading philosophy kind of scares me though.
I know for a fact that at least one member of the Loop has a Jewish heritage. I don't mean to get too personal, but I wonder if he would have anything illuminating to say about all of this?
- Those familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five know of the horrors of Dresden
- A Brit weighs in on The New Granta Book of the American Short Story
- Just imagine if they spent that $27 million to help those in need rather than to construct animatronic dinos!
- Reporting from the front lines of a librarian conference
- When Michael Lewis writes something it is generally worth reading it
- Bookforum offers an array of environmentally minded articles
- "Farewell to Norman Mailer, a sexist, homophobic reactionary"
- Jeff Chang, author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, offers a playlist
- Only having watched through season two, I was disappointed to learn about the fate of Stringer Bell in this recent New Yorker profile of David Simon, creator of The Wire. Even so, twas a good read.
Once I stepped out in the real world my attachment to Borders quickly expired. McBookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, while pretty neat for an American suburbia once void of books (of course I exaggerate) are an endangering force on intimate bookshops personality, meticulously selected stock, and local roots. And not just in America, they're taking the scorched earth policy worldwide. Eff a Borders.
But you already know all that. So to the point already: How better to deliver the final nail in the coffin and bury forever my Borders allegiance than with the recent announcement that Borders "bookstores" are adding 37-inch flat-screen televisions that will barrage patrons with original programs and advertising. *Shudders* So much for that relaxation... to say nothing of the very real possibility that potential advertisers on these television sets could belong to the same parent company of certain publishers whose books Borders could, say, go out of their way to display prominently. I'm just sayin'.
Sunday, November 11
BUT, here's this from Wikipedia:
The next states to be taken on in the project have been reported as Oregon and Rhode Island. Minnesota may be another candidate; in late 2005 and early 2006 Stevens played a new instrumental track titled "The Maple River." The Maple River mentioned in the title of the song runs through several counties in southern Minnesota. There is also evidence to suggest the possibility of a New York album. Not only is Stevens' current residence in New York City, but at the footnote of his writing piece entitled "Friend Rock", Stevens stated that he was reading a biography on Robert Moses, who is a notable New Yorker. In late 2007, Stevens debuted several new songs about New York, including "BQE", a track about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Imagine the possibilities, Bryan!
"Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Kneel Before the Power Broker"
1. Concerning the UFO sighting on the Throgs Neck Bridge
2. Cross-Bronx Expressway, or, How to Gut an Entire Borough and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now
3. Come on! Kneel Before the Power Broker!
4. Fiorello H. LaGuardia
5. A Short Reprise for the South Bronx, Which Went to Shit, but for Very Good Reasons
6. Urban Sprawl, or, Round of Applause for Master Builder
7. One last "Whoo-hoo!" for the automobile
8. To The Fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament
Saturday, November 10
- Norman Mailer has died.
- Listen to a whole mess of Mailer interviews from KCRW's Bookworm
- Two of Book-Loop's favorite entities meet once again: An adaptation of George Saunders' "Ask the Optimist" presented by The Sound of Young America.
- Also, listen to the new Sound of Young America interview with George Saunders.
- Andrew Sullivan's Atlantic cover story on "Why Obama matters"
- Hip-hop mogul Sean Carter visits Charlie Rose
- Twenty years ago today: Music's place in The Closing Of The American Mind
- Writers' strike update: Return of the assistants
- The Future of TV Hits MySpace Sunday
- Special delivery for Michael: The unlikely prototype of the literary salon
- Chappelle in London
Wednesday, November 7
Also, by decree of the Book-Loop Federal Assembly, these blogwaves are now open to all discussion of literature, science and the arts... and crafts and cooking and games and bird watching and Franco-Prussian War reenactment. I'll be honest, this is little more than a sly maneuver to house my falconry blog, my stamping blog and my Ermanno Olmi blog under one roof.
Book-Loop, come out to play-i-ay.
Wednesday, September 19
Tuesday, September 18
Reading hasn't been occupying too much time, contrary to expectations. Mostly, I have had my switches set to "lay and watch" mode, which has delighted me with the intake of season one of The Wire (style note: Is it correct that a television program's title is italicized while individual episode titles are put in quotations?), lots of sports, and Giada De Laurentiis in HD. Yum.
But books are next on my list. I've been dipping into more short stories supplied to me by the anthological The Better of McSweeney's, Volume 1 and some nonfiction WWI short essays. And today I started reading - and nearly finished, it's short - Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country. Shamefully, this is the first Vonnegut that I have consumed. It won't be the last. I'm going to take a guess without knowing the truth that Vonnegut is known for simplicity. Straightforward representations of big ideas, maybe? Am I way off on this?
In any case, that's the mood of this memoir. He devotes scant pages to topics like the world's oil addiction, the nature of humorism/comedy, and plot construction. But he gets his point across poignantly more often than not. An efficiency in presentation of a wealth of ideas, this book.
Not having personal experience with his writing, Kurt Vonnegut was to me still an Icon. A force of literary expression that I was very aware of, but whose true power I hadn't witnessed. A hurricane on the news. It's odd to me to see him writing about current events, namely the political and societal, um, situation (meltdown [one-way handbasket trip]) of the United States in 2007. He even jokes gently and darkly about wishing to have died before the current lot took control and the current (not reasonably deniable) fascism (my word choice) gripped. Boots on the march and such imagery.
It makes me feel sadly. Those people in the world who get the Big Respect - figures like Vonnegut, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa, etc. - had (or will have) their time on earth sullied and defiled by unluckily dying during these dark days. O, fretful youth, it's too bad. And it's too bad that millions won't read Mr. Vonnegut's words and finally GET IT.
A Man Without a Country is a book to be read by all.
Sunday, September 9
Friday, September 7
Monday, September 3
This is wild. It turns out George Saunders, a writer who has expended a significant amount of ink jousting with commercialism, commodification and pop culture in his absurdist satires, actually inspired one of the undeniable low-points in American Culture. Layer upon layer of, dare I say, irony. Quite a puzzle.
By the way, I stumbled upon that tidbit adjacent to a review of Saunders' new essay collection, The Braindead Microphone. For what it's worth EW compared Saunders' journalistic talents to those of fellow fiction writers Norman Mailer and David Foster Wallace.
Sunday, September 2
Friday, August 10
For real though: I have been a bit busy lately, what with a series of exciting visits to my humble jumble of an apartment. My mom, my cousin Joe, my girlfriend (fellow Looper Cat), and next week, my brother! There has been little time to read, and the only reading I have done is to plough through Harry Potter VI and VII. Well, I'm only halfway finished with VII, so shhhh!!
Now, I don't find much to say of merit about these Potter stories. I like them, sure, but I think the actual significance of the works in our culture is probably due to the fevered reaction to their existence. Change the names of the characters and feed it to the same readers unawares, and are the stories really that fantastic? Does it matter?
The interesting phenomenon, I suppose, is the meta-attention, of which I am currently participating. The fussy hubbub is the story here. Mob mentality, and all that. The meta goes many layers deep on this one. The media is the snake eating its own tail, no?
But there are genuine feelings of longing to get back to that story. I can see it sitting beside my bed, calling to me like Voldemort calls to the young hero wizard. Stupid Voldemort.
One great aspect of the Harry Potter books is the feeling I get before I sit down with the book. Looking forward to getting comfortable in my favorite chair and immersing myself in the - admittedly engrossing - adventures is almost as enjoyable as the adventures themselves! There is a genuine power to these books, on some level. And I have genuine regard for the experience. Jk, J.K.: Potter is the man.
Saturday, July 28
- Michael Yates discusses Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate on Against the Grain
- Jim Crace discusses The Pesthouse on Bookworm
- Stephen Carter discusses New England White on On Point
- Miranda July discusses Miranda July on The Sound of Young America
- Actor Bruce Dern discusses his memoir on The Business
- Fresh Air remembers poet Sekou Sundiata
- Eugene Drucker discusses The Savior with Diane Rehm
Friday, July 27
Sunday, July 22
- Books we have never read
- 'I don't think bloggers read'
- Blogging adds to the language? Don't talk shit
- Blogging: a crash course on introspection
- Goodbye to Newspapers?
- The economic consequences of the rise of English
- Children of empire
- Wendy Cooling: I want to get every child in the country reading for pleasure
- Why we turn writers' houses into holy shrines
- The Apprentice: The making of a sportswriter
- An Interview with Arnold Rampersad
Saturday, July 21
A quick side-note that Mike and I met in Judy McWhirter's English class. I hated him so much, because he would tease me mercilessly and tell me not to, "get my dander up." Just ridiculous.
Although my memory has been rendered practically null by a friend named pot, I can still catch the little brain glimmer when recalling my favorites. They include:
-As I Lay Dying
-Crime and Punishment
-Cat and Mouse
-A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
-Giants in the Earth
All lovely. The pick of the litter for me was Joyce. It simply seemed like he could take the happy feelings of being a youngster and say them properly.
Not to be a grouch, but I also find it interesting to note those books that I thoroughly detested. Most came from 9th grade Advanced English with Mrs. Grace, who left in the middle of the year after a 'death threat.' She was almost 80 years old and I was left to deal with the infamous Boo Yeah all alone.
-The Bean Trees
-The House of Mirth
-The Heart of the Matter
Graham Greene as a raving God-fearer broke my heart. Dickens and I will never get along, either.
So how about books that high schoolers should read?
Tuesday, July 17
Of Mice and Men
Lord of the Flies
Black Like Me
A Raisin in the Sun
Seize the Day
Catcher in the Rye
A Separate Peace
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Their Eyes Were Watching God
The Great Gatsby
On the Road
Big scary textbook with stuff like Self-Reliance, Hawthorne short stories and orations from early America
The Handmaid’s Tale
The House of the Spirits
Franny and Zooey*
How did I graduate high school having been assigned just two novels (Night and The House of the Spirits) written by authors born outside of North America or the United Kingdom? Is that normal? I know in the honors track the students read Flaubert and Tolstoy over the summer before their sophomore year but we intensive students seem to have been cheated. Hell, we were all cheated without at least a little Far East and a little Africa being introduced to our impressionable young minds.
The grade 9 reading list resembles a syllabus you would likely see again and again if you were to Google “high school freshman English,” but I remember those books all being pretty rewarding, so no complaints on the vanilla course design. I was not a good student my freshman year. I remember being worried about whether I would have strong enough grades to be able to play basketball. A low point came when I failed a quiz on basic plot details of Fahrenheit 451. I had read the chapters the quiz covered and yet I was unable to answer the questions correctly.
Grade 10 is noteworthy only because it introduced me to Bellow and Hesse. Well, I suppose it is also noteworthy for Brando's stellar performance in Streetcar, which we watched upon completing our reading of the play.
In Grade 11, I read what was probably my favorite novel to date, Their Eyes Were Watching God. On the Road was an interesting experience but meh overall, and after having it assigned to me twice more in college it remains meh. (Now Dharma Bums, that's a different story entirely.) I remember being transfixed by the characters in The Great Gatsby but not connecting with the novel as a whole so much. I really need to read that one again. Slaughterhouse Five was magical. I really enjoyed my time in that class, got a A+ for my efforts too. Before that year I was an average student who wasn't even giving a great deal of thought to the idea of college, but over the course of that year something happened and I really got rolling academically. Some of those books you see are largely responsible.
Grade 12 was a good time. The Handmaid's Tale blew my mind and I recall loathing The Canterbury Tales a great deal less than most of my classmates. I remember my nightly one page essays that I had to write on Hamlet being the most fun I'd ever had on homework assignments. I was really into that shit.
So what did you read? What did you love? What did you hate? What do you wish you read? What are some books you read later in life that you think more high school kids should be reading? Why? Do you approve of the new template?
*Selected myself for book review assignments.
- When 'On the Road' Was 'On the Subway'
- Kings of the Road
- Covering Cormac
- Harry Potter and the Death of Reading
- The Bible Delusion
- The Greatness and Decline of American Oratory
- The 2006 Believe Book Awards
- 'J'accuse George W Bush'
- The Independent's Summer reading special
- Winston Churchill, philo-Semite
- 'Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005' by J.M. Coetzee
- Xinran: I want to tell the world about the lives of ordinary Chinese women
Monday, July 16
Saturday, July 14
From Dumbing down American readers, by Harold Bloom
"The Decision to give the National Book Foundation's annual award for "distinguished contribution" to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind . . . The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat.
. . .
Our society and our literature and our culture are being dumbed down, and the causes are very complex. I'm 73 years old. In a lifetime of teaching English, I've seen the study of literature debased. There's very little authentic study of the humanities remaining.
. . .
Today there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise. Thomas Pynchon is still writing. My friend Philip Roth, who will now share this "distinguished contribution" award with Stephen King, is a great comedian and would no doubt find something funny to say about it. There's Cormac McCarthy, whose novel "Blood Meridian" is worthy of Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick," and Don DeLillo, whose "Underworld" is a great book."
From Stephen King has a shining talent, by Sam Jordison
"It may be a testimony to my own idiocy, but I like plenty of penny dreadfuls and I also like Stephen King. As something of a snob myself, I too spent many years assuming that he was crap (even though I hadn't actually read any of his books). But I was eventually persuaded that the brain behind films as good and as varied as Misery, The Shawshank Redemption and (of course) The Shining had to have something going for it. Even if his prose was turgid. And when I got stuck into a copy of the The Shining, I was pleasantly surprised.
. . .
More important than such personal enjoyment of King's craftsmanship, is the fact that he's the bestselling adult novelist in the world. Please don't misinterpret me as saying that more is better. I simply mean that to dismiss Stephen King out of hand is to dismiss millions of readers and, crucially, millions of readers in the world's most powerful country, the US. It is to these fans that King speaks most intimately and about whom he therefore has the most to tell us.
. . .
In short, King's ability to reflect contemporary US society - and (thanks to his huge fan base) to affect it - is as powerful as any other writer around today. And if that isn't impressive literature... Well, you tell me."
From Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, by Nick Hornby
“...boredom, let’s face it, is a problem that many of us have come to associate with books. It’s one of the reasons why we choose to do almost anything else rather than read; very few of us pick up a book after the children are in bed and the dinner has been made and the dirty dishes cleared away. We’d rather turn on the television. Some evenings we’d rather go to all the trouble of getting into a car and driving to a cinema, or waiting for a bus that might take us somewhere near one. This is partly because reading appears to be more effortful than watching TV, and usually it is, although if you choose to watch HBO series, such as The Sopranos or The Wire, then it’s a close-run thing, because the plotting in these programs, the speed and the complexity of the dialogue, are as demanding as a lot of the very best fiction.
One of the problems, it seems to me, is that we have gotten it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they’re hard work, they’re not doing us any good.
. . .
If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity——and there are statistics which show that this is by no means assured——then we have to promote the joys of reading rather than the (dubious) benefits. I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you’re reading a book that’s killing you, put it down and read something else, just as you would reach for the remote if you weren’t enjoying a TV program. You failure to enjoy a highly rated novel doesn’t mean you’re dim——you may find that Graham Greene is more your taste, or Stephen Hawking, or Iris Murdoch, or Ian Rankin. Dickens, Stephen King, whoever. It doesn’t matter.
. . .
In Britain, more than twelve million adults have a reading age of thirteen or under, and yet some clever-dick journalist still insists on telling us that unless we’re reading something proper, then we might as well not bother at all.
. . .
And please, please, please stop patronizing those who are reading books——The Da Vinci Code, maybe——because they are enjoying it. For a start, none of us knows what kind of an effort this represents for the individual reader. It could be his or her first full-length adult novel; it might be the book that finally reveals the purpose and joy of reading to someone who has hitherto been mystified by the attraction books exert on others. And anyway, reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing."
From What makes a book good? comment thread, by Ben
"When we ask, 'good for what,' why can't we simply answer, 'good for the enjoyment of the reader?' Would that defeat the entire purpose of this discussion? Perhaps, but that's what I believe it boils down to. What is any hobby good for? Escapism or edification, whatever the goal, reading is not unlike other hobbies, and just as with other hobbies the payoff for each individual is unique."
Friday, July 13
- David Halberstam's posthumous thoughts on Iraq
- Review of Primo Levi's A Tranquil Star
- Francisco Goldman on Roberto Bolaño
- Haruki Murakami: Jazz Messenger
- Rowling learning to live with fame, fortune, life without Harry
- Tintin's Congo book moved out of children's section
- Stephen King has a shining talent
- Sebastian Beaumont's top 10 books about psychological journeys
- The C.I.A.’s Missteps, From Past to Present
- Discussion of hip-hop culture forgets its spirit, and music
- The beloved 'eccentric' of Other Times Books
Thursday, July 12
I have but one question, Book-Loopers: Are we a granfalloon or are we a karass? I fear it is terribly obvious that we are the former. No matter. Down with Proust, up with Vonnegut, get your Beowfulf opening night tickets, WHAT!?!!? Busy, busy, busy.
"What do you think of it?" I asked him.
"It's black. What is it——hell?"
"It means whatever it means," said Newt.
"Then it's hell," snarled Castle.
"I was told a moment ago that it was a cat's cradle," I said.
"Inside information always helps," said Castle.
"I don't think it's very nice," Angela complained. "I think it's ugly, but I don't know anything about modern art. Sometimes I wish Newt would take some lessons, so he could know for sure if he was doing something or not."
"Self taught, are you?" Julian Castle asked Newt.
"Isn't everybody?" Newt answered.
"Very good answer." Castle was respectful.
I undertook to explain the deeper significance of the cat's cradle, since Newt seemed disinclined to go through that song and dance again.
And Castle nodded sagely. "So this is a picture of the meaninglessness of it all! I couldn't agree more."
Wednesday, July 11
I must apologize. First, I’m sorry that you are dead — you would have loved the Internet.
Second, I’m sorry I couldn’t finish volume one (Swann’s Way) of your masterwork, In Search of Lost Time. I got 300 pages into the book, which is part one of what is considered possibly the greatest novel ever written. That’s two-thirds of the way through. But I just cannot finish it. It is probably my own loss, but I can accept that. I have moved on to Don DeLillo’s White Noise, something more contemporary and originally written in English. That will probably help. I just know that I had about 40 hours of flights/travel time and only mustered 100 pages of reading. There are many things that are hard that are worth doing, and reading your works is probably one of them for someone. For me, right now, it’s not. Though I did copy down some good quotes.
Third, I’m sorry about all that “Freedom Fries” bullshit from a few years back. Turns out you guys were right the whole time.
Saturday, July 7
- The quixotic don
- Has The Sopranos whacked the Great American novel?
- Putin kills the press
- Gunter Grass Peels the Onion
- A Talk With Cullen Murphy, Author of Are We Rome?
- Cape Wind: An entertaining look at power and hypocrisy
- Revisiting The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- Boyd Tonkin celebrates Woody Allen's fiction
- Mark Slouka visits Bookworm
- Elmore Leonard says hello to Young America
Wednesday, July 4
Falling Man is yet another entry into the ever-growing sub-genre of 9/11 fiction. Because it is written by a man who is widely considered one of the top four or five active American writers its release was something of a literary event. As I had no intention of reading Falling Man I have yet to look at a single review of the novel. I do not know whether the critical response has generally positive, but I do know that I did not particularly care for the book.
For a crisp plot summary we turn to Wikipedia (forgive me, I’m lazy): “Falling Man concerns a survivor of the 9/11 attacks and the effect his experiences on that day have on his life thereafter. As the novel opens, Keith Neudecker, a 39 year-old lawyer who works in the World Trade Center, escapes from the building injured slightly and walks to the apartment he previously shared with his son Justin and estranged wife Lianne. After a period of convalescence recuperating from the physical and mental trauma experienced in the attack, Keith resumes his domestic routine with Lianne while at the same time broaching a romantic relationship with a woman named Florence, another survivor, whose briefcase Keith absently took with him from a stairwell upon exiting the tower.”
Falling Man wants very much to be a small, personal story about a epic, international event, but for the most part I found it rather cold. I believe it would have made a excellent novella (I recall enjoying the excerpt from the novel that appeared in The New Yorker) but at 246 pages it carries a significant amount of excess baggage. Most unfortunate, I think, are the three small sections that jump outside of the lives of the central characters to follow a 9/11 hijacker from Afghanistan, to Florida, to the moment his plane strikes Keith’s building. These sections seemed sloppy and incomplete, an afterthought.
Falling Man does contain a few moments that took my breath away, such as when we discover that three children’s vexing new hobby of staring outside an apartment window with binoculars began so that they could monitor the skies for rogue airplanes. Also, the two descriptions of exiting the crumbling tower, one of Florence’s experience and one of Keith’s of the escape, are pretty stunning. But, yeah, until further I'm not a big fan.
Tuesday, June 26
Sunned intrigue down South;
Exploded bastards betrayed
"New Boy," Roddy Doyle
Kid's got spunk for sure,
'Cause it's not a simple act
To show big jerks up.
Monday, June 25
1) Underworld, by Don DeLillo
2) Salt, by Mark Kurlansky
3) Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust
4) Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
5) White Noise, by Don DeLillo
This is mostly a quiz for Ben, but I invite all to guess, well, just for fun. I have read none of these books until now, but I plan on reading most or all of them.
Tuesday, June 19
I’ve read one so far. “The Stepfather,” by Chris Adrian, is a hazy little story about a quirky family. The location of the setting in both time and space is ambiguous, but the text suggests the family lives a wealthy rural lifestyle in the second half of last century. The matriarch of this family has a habit of marrying and divorcing frequently, almost seasonally. The various stepfathers drift into and out of the family’s life. And while the mother finds her comfort in these multiple males, the children have been alienated from fatherly attachment and are welded to one another very thoroughly.
Also ambiguous, in an almost comical, but somewhat sinister, fashion, is the exact number of children in the story. Sinister, I say, because a new name will pop up on almost every page with no real introduction. The author seems to enjoy springing the characters on the reader. “Yes, there’s another one, haha.” All in all, there are about a dozen children in the tale, pairs and triples of whom are the offspring of the different rotating stepfathers. Curiously, each stepfather is referred to as “stepfather” in relation to all of the kids, as if their mother was the only parent involved in their making.
What is not unclear to me is the violence marbled through the story. Only one physically violent act is described in the text, though others unfulfilled are contemplated. A word about that violent act: I am always fascinated by the ways in which authors describe terrible acts, especially those involving inhuman savagery. Do they choose to sensationalize? Is the prose viscerally present at the scene, or is it detached? Adrian chooses detachment, detailing a crime committed against one of the siblings through declaratives spoken by one of the brothers. The crime is this: Calvin, a closeted brother, goes to have a rendezvous with a sailor in a dark park. His body is found with hundreds of stab wounds and fingers bitten off. Semen from multiple assailants is found inside of wounds in his abdomen. Ok, yuck. It makes me wonder how an author decides to convey such a plot point in his story. I read that description multiple times, as it came somewhat out of nowhere.
As I mentioned, that is the only physically violent event in “The Stepfather,” but I have another definition of violence that I once wrote as a thesis in a Women’s Studies paper at university. My basic idea was that violence can be usefully defined as victim creation, and the presence of physical aggression is a secondary consideration. For example, a boxing match may be awfully damaging and brutal, but because of the agreed-upon circumstances, it is not so much a violent thing. There is no victim created. I feel that violence is essentially action which causes abuse that converts a person into a victim who before was not: victim creation.
Under this rubric, “The Stepfather” is speckled significantly with violence. The violence of alienation of children by absent parenting, the primary and secondary victim creation from Calvin’s horrific murder; these events lead to the last part of the story in which the cabal of slighted sisters and brothers plot to kill the latest stepfather, so unhappy are they with his performance. However, each in turn fails to accomplish the deed. He remains in their lives, and they remain victims, as they see it, of his lamentable presence. The last act of violence in the story remains an imagined one, their potential victim remaining a culprit instead. And Calvin’s unknown murderer remains as well.
Monday, June 18
- Easy, readers: Summer reads from the Boston Globe
- "Hot Summer Reads" from On Point with Tom Ashbrook
- NPR's Summer Books 2007
- The third of a four-part series of summer reading recommendations from Salon.
- The Scorn of the Literary Blog
- Racing Against Reality: A review of Don DeLillo's Falling Man
- Biggest literary prize goes to little-known Norwegian
- James Baldwin's letters to Istanbul
- David Halberstam Remembered as Writer Dedicated to Conveying Truth
- García Márquez's 'Total' Novel: One Hundred Years turns 40
- An old Salon interview with Haruki Murakami
Sunday, June 17
The book is written in a casual style and it is obvious from the start that Kezich, an Italian film critic and close friend of Fellini's, adored his subject. While such adoration can be problematic from a credibility standpoint, I found the loving tribute appropriate given Fellini's standing in Italy, his ebullient personality and the fact that he was a cartoonist and filmmaker, not a head of state or labor organizer or guerrilla rebel, or some other position in the world where sympathy regarding private dealings could actually have important ramifications. Here the biggest show of sympathy for the subject comes in the form of Kezich's disinterest in ever exploring the many, many, many affairs of Federico Fellini. Really, too many to count. We gracefully dance around his extramaritals and I, for one, was thankful for that. Which is not to say that I wish to remain entirely ignorant about his infidelities, but rather that an extended examination of those antics would not be germane to discussion of Fellini's movies, which, as it is penned by a film critic, is the book's raison d'être
In discussing Fellini's professional life, which is the real meat of the book, Kezich is less cautious. One comes away with the impression that Fellini was a pain in the ass for his producers and no less tiresome for his cast members. We see a Fellini who is constantly behind schedule, constantly over budget and constantly altering the shape and scope of his films.
But the real joy for me were the anecdotes that only a close friend of Fellini's could provide. I encountered in-depth discussion of Fellini's Jungian analysis, authoritative talk regarding who some his characters were based on, and confirmation that, yes, in fact much of Fellini's work was far more autobiographical than he was ever willing to admit. Much of the book is spent on the pre-production and production of Fellini's films, far less (but still enough to satisfy) on the content and artistic merits of the finished products (a move I appreciated as there is an abundance of scholarly work and criticism that covers Fellini's entire filmography). After all, Fellini's work is available for all to see but the anecdotes regarding the constant delays and derailments with the production of his films are more elusive and that is an area where Kezich's friendship with the director allows us unique insight.
Gore Vidal in Fellini's Roma
Thursday, June 14
But I can talk about a book because I DO know how to read. I'm unsure as to how appealing this particular review may be for the male readers, as it has to do with kitchens. Yet since returning from Japan, I've been cooking incessantly for my family, reaping the benefits of things like an oven after two years with only a sad little dorm fridge and two-burner stove. Granted I had access to many culinary delights unknown to this land (mirin, ponzu, iro iro na kinoko), cooking for one is just no fun so lately it's been a festival of many tasty treats and some flops retired soon after their debut.
The other day, I was feeding my very bored and confused brain some ideas for dinner by skimming through the various cookbooks and food publications that clutter up our house. Gourmet, with its haughtiness and horrific advertisement spread wasn't cutting it and Cook's Illustrated seemed to have developed a meaty love affair for the grilling months. In all honesty, my search was not desirous of a step-by-step recipe as much as only some ideas with which I could create a meal of my own workings.
My eye then fatefully fell upon a clean white binding with simple print professing the knowledge of "How to Eat," written by Vogue food editor Nigella Lawson. It seemed a little naive, just to delve into such literature after 10 odd years of feeding myself, but the lady on the back cover was very pretty and alluring. I trusted her with my food and some of my time.
At first, I admit it was a bit rough to understand the layout of the book. With eight sections spanning everything from cooking in advance to weekend lunch to feeding babies, this wasn't necessarily a quick, catch-all kind of reference. Instead, it seemed as though Ms. Lawson had sat down and written an entire philosophy on food and then, given common themes, did her best to guide the reader as best she could. Nevertheless, this is not a fault, and with an altered approach to reading the pages, one can gather a wealth of knowledge on creating a practical and delicious kitchen.
With no pot on the burner, I sat down and read through the first section, entitled "Basics, etc." My eyebrows sat up at the idea of making my own salad dressings and everyday sauces, such as mayonaise. Some exotic fruits, like quinces, rhubarb, damsons and seville oranges sounded lovely, and easy recipes followed thereafter. In fact, throughout the book you will find a dusting of delicious how-tos for every palate.
I, however, was especially enraptured by the eight pages dedicated to helping one organize a refrigerator, freezer and 'larder' (she is British). Her suggestions prompted me to jump out of my chair and clean out the entire fridge before my mother could come in and start to fret about the 3 month-old, molding red pepper being 'wasted.'
Yes, Ms. Lawson has written a fantastic book for those who perhaps need a little inspiration in the kitchen. By spelling out the basics, even the hairiest brute could fix up a choucroute garnie or passion fruit fool. Her language is enlighting, as well, warmly written with wonderful thoughts not only on how to cook, but how we should think about food in our everyday lives. A read so good, I decided to reproduce my favorite recipe here:
Pea, Mint and Avocado Salad
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon good white wine vinegar
fat pinch caster sugar
bunch of mint
1 1/2 kilogram peas in pod (approx. 500g. podded weight)
assorted salad leaves
2 chicory heads
3 ripe avocados
First make the dressing: put the oil and vinegar and a pinch of sugar into a large bowl and then put a decent handful of chopped mint. Stir well so all is amalgamated. Cook the podded peas for a short amount of time in salted boiling water, just so that they're ready, but not soft. Taste after 2 minutes and the keep tasting. Pour peas in colander and then straight away into the bowl of dressing and let steep for an hour or up to a day.
Just before serving, stir in about a packetful of mixed salad, the chicory, which has been separated into its leaves, and the avocado, which should be cut into bite-sized chunky slices. You may need to drizzle a bit more oil in after the tasting. Serve this on a big plate. Sprinkle with more chopped mint.
Saturday, June 9
From the Desk of Hugh Hefner
It's not everyday I write a letter like this. However, I found it important. Recently, I learned that you are no longer receiving issues of PLAYBOY at home. If you don't mind me saying, I'm a bit surprised.
I created PLAYBOY for people like yourself who want to get the most out of life - that's why I'm sorry to hear that your subscription has run out. As a busy person myself, I understand how it could have been a simple oversight.
No, Hef, I'm the one who's sorry. The Atlantic recently displaced your fine periodical in my household. It was a simple numbers game, and while boobies are nice, I've recently found myself disinterested in most of the words contained outside of the Forum section in your magazine. It was a rapid falling out of favor you and I had, and I'm not entirely sure what accounts for it. Not so long ago on this very blog I believe I said I would happily receive Playboy and SI for the remainder of my life, and now, oops, both subscriptions have lapsed. Perhaps we shall meet again some years down the line when images of naked women under the age of thirty have an entirely foreign and abstract quality.
- Sherman Alexie talks about his new novel Flight with Tom Ashbrook.
- On Bookworm Joyce Carol Oates discusses her new novel The Gravedigger’s Daughter
- An English professor, a novelist, and an NPR science correspondent banter about Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle on The Diane Rehm Show.
- Rebecca Solnit vists Against the Grain to discuss her new collection of essays, Storming the Gates of Paradise.
- Fresh Air re-aired this interview with Philip Roth concerning his most recent novel, Everyman.
Thursday, June 7
Among an over-extended military, ignorance of other world cultures, and a full-steam-ahead privitization fetish, Murphy mentions the parallel of individualization. A hyper-individualized society boils down life event importance to newly miniscule scales. Insert cliche about YouTube here. Just the simple reality of permanent records of comments on things like blog posts lends a hysterical delusional importance to things that may be simply not. Such weight and faux-meaning can now be attached to more and shorter moments because the world is so big, small, and fast. According to a lay understanding of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, one result of traveling near the speed of light is that time slows down. The faster one can experience something, the more one can fit in. Similarly, living our lives in super-rich micro-moments can have the effect of making our lives fuller and richer and bigger. Or...bloated. And this raises the societal question: If we citizens at large are so micro-focused, who do we put in charge of the longview? Is government (specifically its very long-term planning) less or (counter-intuitively) more important in a privatized, individualized society?
The Flaming Lips said that "all we have is now," and our "now" is puckeringly rich; we have less need for deep consideration of the past and future when our moment-to-moment existence bubble is so full. And ironically, we of course have more need than ever for such consideration for precisely the same reasons. I wonder if this book approaches the question of Romans' awareness of their society's trip down from zenith. Was there a fringe element with the vision to see the bigger picture?
Such a fringe most definitely exists in America today. I have recently read a book by Michael C. Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon, which takes a big picture view of the state of our state. He believes very much in consipracy theories, especially regarding 9/11, which may be off-putting for some. But his frank discussion of the evident decline of our empire is compelling. I hope that these ideas become widely and seriously considered with fairness, not derision, from our instant-communication, instant-commentary culture.
This revolutionary communication ability and fast-paced me-lifestyle that is, as I mentioned earlier, shortening our daily moments and inflating our individualism may also be our saving grace if it facilitates communication of the fringe's ideas on a large-scale - and then only if the message is heeded. But, as Murphy says at one point, of the many adjectives generally applied to Americans, "heedless" is near the top of the list. Keep trying, please, sirs.